Remembering headquarters, 60 years later (1)
SIXTY years ago, there was a handful of good secondary schools – Igbobi; Methodist Boys High School; Kings College; Government College, Ughelli; Government College, Ibadan; Ibadan Grammar School; Christ School, Ado Ekiti; St. Gregorys, Government College, Umuahia; Denis Memorial Grammar School; C.K.C.; Hope Waddell etc. A few of us emerged from these schools and have been friends since. We call ourselves the headquarters.
Most of us went to boarding school where the age difference was considerable but in Form One, we were all small, bathing, sharing school activities: Sports – cricket, football, volleyball, softball, tennis.
We had white dormitory schoolmasters who tested us for student clubs – debating, etc.
Ballroom dancing – the senior boys taught us how to dance; we took the part of the female and they the male. If you have ever learnt dancing, you know immediately that you can never dance with a girl if you learnt to dance as a girl while learning. It takes a complete revolution in thinking and manoeuver to switch to dance as the mode entails.
Once in a month, the principal would invite the girls to our hall for dancing. Our palms were wet with sweat. We were as nervous as hell: In the hall, the girls sat at one long row along the wall and the boys sat opposite. The longest distance any boy has ever walked, longer than going to the moon, was to walk across that hall and ask a girl to dance. If she says no, you die a million times in the haze of finding your place. Why should she say no? She came to dance. You have spent good two days starching and getting your trouser gaiters as sharp as knife. Your pimple mercifully was not showing that week. As you turn to walk back, you hear this pearly of laughter but you dare not turn back. Your prefect, who has been through this before, walks up to you, smiles and begins to teach you again how to dance, his expertise is enthralling and some bold girl breaks you up, takes the prefect and hands you a girl she had come up with. The ice is broken but so has your confidence.
Bathing: This number of schools nearly throws all kinds together. The ritual is as follows: The youngest – Form 1 go to bath first and produce water for the senior boys – Form 5. But some of your own Form 1 classmates insist you bath early and get out. You are a scrawny 11, 12 or 13 years old boy. Your classmate is probably shorter or no taller than yourself. But looking at his biceps tells you not to mess with him and if you continue looking, a knock on the head with plenty of power soon dazzles your head. You quickly soap yourself, pour water on yourself and run out. There are about 250 students who have to take their baths between 5:45 and 6:30 a.m. Breakfast as at 7am, what we did not know about our classmates – the muscular ones – was that they were much older than ourselves, many of them shaved and we never suspected this. We were small and our manhood was proportionate but not so with many of our classmates who always turned to the wall to make sure you only saw their backs!!
It was much later in life that we found out that some of our classmates were six to eight years older than ourselves and had good reason to face the wall.
At school, you had to play at least three sports – football, cricket, volleyball, softball, or rounders, lawn tennis, boxing, etc. We all come from different backgrounds but met during the holidays at Warri, Sapele, Port Harcourt, Benin, Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, etc. During the holidays, we were the toast of the town. Our parents were almost hopelessly disciplinarians and they devised us many ways round the inexhaustible punishments they devised – pick pin, stand on one foot, bend down (followed by cane) jump like a frog, etc none of those punishments were undeserved especially as we had been warned of the consequences of misbehaving. A favorite past time was to go to the cinema. It started at 8:30pm and out at 10pm or so by then the house was tightly locked up. Of course we made arrangement with someone down stairs to keep his (our brother) or her (our sister), windows open so we can climb in. Sometimes it worked. Other times it didn’t. If the weather was inconsolably warm, you might find a room with a window open, you jump in only to step on your sister or auntie who would scream – and the game was up.
Sometimes you did not step on anybody but if you happen to enter the girl’s room in the heat, I am unable to describe the scene before you. Just run off to the door, open up and fly to your own room! But if it rains, then no window is open. You might now have to climb up the stresses of your father’s house to meet the man, your father, waiting for you with his favorite inevitable cane! Koboko
As we grew up in school, many of us took to singing, others to musical instruments (most schools had full bands) the good ones tended to play at the weekend at various joints in the town where they were sure not to be recognized by the friends of their fathers. Thus, one of our best singers is today an imposing General of the Army, over six feet tall whose voice could charm the Nightingale: Another was a 6.2ft lawyer who eventually had his own band, a very warfarian bonsue – totally uncopiable and inimitable.
Our result must have been good – many ended up as federal permanent secretaries, captains of industry (oil) chemical engineers, doctors, dentists etc. Fast forward 60 years. We had all visited one another’s homes for marriages; Christianity had helped, and some of our wives had come and gone and come back again. We were much older and that group had been reduced to a core group of 12- 14 people, including judges, senate president, MDs of TV, Radio, newspapers, chief executives of international building conglomerates, Admirals, Air Vice Marshal, Insurance tycoons.
Others are accountant, estate agents, radio personality, SGFs, and governors. This is the group we call the headquarters. No one is below 70yrs. The total age of that core group of 14 is 960yrs if you add up all their ages. We have other associations which we are tied to – the Sapele Burma Boys, Warri Burma Boys, and Port Harcourt Boys and then the myriad of schools we all attended.
•To be continued tomorrow.
•Dr. Cole (OFR) is a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil.
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